President Chávez continues Venezuela's railway development

by Olivia Kroth

Sources: Abrebrecha, Aporrea, Blog Hugo Chávez, Correo del Orinoco, Cuba Debate, Patria Grande, Pravda, Prensa latina, Venezuelanalysis, Xinhua

After Hugo Chávez's victory in the presidential elections on the 7th of October, which he won with a comfortable 54.42 percent majority, his Venezuelan Railway Development Plan 2006-2030 will continue full steam.

In Venezuela, people are joyful and still celebrating the outcome of the voting. The victory was to be expected, of course, since President Chávez is a man of many merits and virtues, nationally and internationally praised and valued by millions of people. „El Comandante queda," the Commander will stay, millions of voters were singing at the sound of  "La Toque de Diana," a special military march associated with Hugo Chávez. Other Chavistas were chanting, "Uh, ah, no se va!" Uh,ah, he won't go away!  

One of the President's important projects is the National Railway Development Plan. Upon completion, the system will comprise 16 lines with 13.600 kilometers of railway, connecting all 24 states and the four cardinal points of the territory. It will foster economic development and give fresh impulses to tourism.

The trains will transport 210 million passengers and 190 million tons of goods per year. Both long and short journey trains will be used. All in all, this ambitious project is going to cost the Bolivarian Government a total sum of 150 billion USD. The Instituto de Ferrocarriles del Estado (IFE), the State Railway Institution, is responsible for the planning and management of Venezuela's railway system. The headquarters is located in Caracas. 

A functionary of IFE said that the highways in Venezuela are almost collapsing under the heavy weight of trucks transporting goods. Trains for cargo transport are urgently needed. The new railroad system will minimize the damage to roads, making them last longer. Passenger comfort is another aspect highly valued. The new passenger carriages are air conditioned, comfortable, modern, with bathrooms and water fountains, but above all, they are safe. 

"This is socialism on rails," Hugo Chávez assured. The railway system is supposed to transform Venezuela economically and socially. The President called the new system "an integrating and structuring force for the country."  The Bolivarian train system does not privilege a vision of individual, but of collective transport for all, whether rich or poor, young or old. Ticket prices are moderate, seniors and youngsters will get discounts.   

Apart from national routes, the railway will reach to Colombia in the West and Brasil in the South, in order to facilitate commercial exchange within Mercosur.  "South" seems to be a magic word.  Hugo Chávez wants to have a "train of the South," along the line of other southern-orientated institutions such as the Bank of the South and TeleSUR, TV of the South. Aptly, the motto of Mercosur is "Our North (goal) is the South."

Some of the new railroads are already operating, others are under construction, while the rest is still in a state of planning. The first track, finished in 2006, offers a service between Caracas and Cúa in the state of Miranda, 41.5 kilometers south of the capital. This line is a part of the railway system "Ezequiel Zamora." 

It consists of 24 tunnels, 27 bridges and two stations on the way, Charavalle North and Charavalle South in Valles de Tuy, sleeper suburbs of metropolitan Caracas. The longest of the 24 tunnels is Tunel de Tazón, 6.7 kilometers long. The trains run in intervals of 20 minutes during the week, and of 30 minutes on weekends and holidays. They transport an average of 200.000 passengers daily. A one-way ticket costs less than three Bolivares. 

On the 15th of October 2006, President Chávez inaugurated the line personally, sitting at the helm on the maiden voyage, which lasted 30 minutes. Upon arrival he said,  "This is a historical day. Finally the era of the railroad has arrived in Venezuela, which is the era of revolution, of happiness."

Actually, this railway had already been started by the previous government during the Fourth Republic (1958-1998), but was never completed and soon neglected. The trains were left to rot, the rails deteriorated rapidly. They had to be completely renovated and modernized by the Bolivarian Government, when Hugo Chávez took office as President in 1999. 

In April 2011, a Chinese delegation of the Bank of Development visited the Caracas-Cúa line, guided by representatives of IFE. They inspected the stations, the trains, the depots and workshops for repair.  Visitors from China also talked to the personnel.    

Another railway network is the Centro-Occidental Simón Bolívar. Its first segment leads from La Encrucijada, state of Aragua, to Puerto Cabello, state of Carabobo, Venezuela's main overseas port on the Caribbean Sea. The line is currently under construction and will probably be ready for use by the end of 2013. It will transport about 14 million passengers and 15 million tons of cargo each year. 

A total of 3.000 direct and 4.000 indirect employees were hired, including railroad workers, technicians and engineers. Works on this segment have advanced to 60 percent. Twenty-one bridges and 15 tunnels had to be built, of which the Túnel de Bárbula with almost eight kilometers, is the longest. The overall length of the second segment is 108 kilometers. The following stations are to be served:  La Encrucijada, Santa Cruz de Aragua, Turmero and Maracay in the state of Aragua; Mariara, San Joaquín, Guacara, San Diego, Nanagua and Puerto Cabello in the state of Carabobo. 

In July this year, the overfly in Santa Cruz de Aragua was inaugurated. Venezolana de Televisión transmitted the ceremony. Luis Mendoza, Vice-Minister of Terrestrial Transports, explained that this new bridge over the railway tracks will facilitate traffic flow and transit of vehicles to various towns in the state of Aragua.  

The trains are modern, safe and especially user-friendly, with reduced noise even at high speed, and reduced emission of toxic gas, to avoid the pollution of nature. The medium sound emission will be 65 to 70 decibels, which is rather low when compared to the 90 decibels of regular car traffic.

The five trains have been dubbed "Fraternidad" (Fraternity), "Amor" (Love), "Igualdad" (Equality), "Socialismo" (Socialism) and "Simón Bolívar", after the Latin American hero, El Libertador, and the socialist values of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. 

In Puerto Cabello, train conductors receive training on how to handle the new engines. José Gregorio Carrera, a supervisor with 12 years of working experience, declared, "We are adapting to the new material and technology. This is a tremendous opportunity for us." José Lucena, a conductor with 23 years of service, expressed his satisfaction about "learning something worthwhile day by day." 

The next segment of the system, Centro-Occidental Simón Bolivar, leads from Puerto Cabello, state of Carabobo, to Barquisimeto, state of Lara in the Llanos (Grasslands), passing through Morón, Urama, San Felipe, Chivacoa and Yaritagua. 

This train line, which crosses three states, was also begun in 1959, with a length of 173 kilometers, but the capitalists who dominated Venezuelan politics during the Fourth Republic soon lost interest. The railroad deteriorated so badly that the train journey of normally two hours lasted up to five hours in its last stage, before the railway fell apart completely.

When President Chávez became President of the Fifth Republic, he took up the unfinished work and continued this line, motivated and supported by engineers from the People's Republic of China, who have great experience in building trajectories for trains over vast stretches of land.

In 2004, the groundstone was laid for the segment from Puerto Cabello to Barquisimeto. Since then, renovation, repair and modernization works have been going on with Chinese, as well as Cuban, assistance through the Cuban-Venezuelan joint enterprise, Ferrolasa. 

Freight trains are already in service and passenger trains to follow soon, by the end of this year at the latest, IFE announced. The modern trains with multiple Diesel engines (Demus) have 280 cargo platforms, among them 50 wagons especially made for the conveyance of cereal, because it is one of the main agricultural crops produced in this part of the country.

Barquisimeto, the capital of Lara, ranks as the fourth most important Venezuelan city, with a population of 1.350.000 inhabitants, a center for coffee, grain and other products of alimentation. Since 1983, the city possesses the largest food market in Venezuela, MERCABAR (Mercado Mayorista de Alimentos de Barquisimeto), erected on a terrain of 108 hectares in the Industrial Zone III. 

Furthermore, Barquisimeto is the home of seven public universities: Universidad Centro Occidental Lisandro Alvarado, Universidad Nacional Experimental Politécnica, Universidad Pedagógica Experimental Libertador, Universidad Politécnica Territorial de Lara Andrés Eloy Blanco, Universidad Central de Venezuela (Centro Regional Barquisimeto), Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela and Universidad Nacional Experimental Politécnica de la Fuerza Armada Bolivariana.

Last but not least, Barquisimeto is known for its inhabitants' joy of life, which finds its most beautiful expression in several festivals, like the International Carnaval in February/March, and the International Feria from the 14th to the 25th of September each year. Both festivities attract large crowds of tourists. They will surely like the idea of being able to ride in new, comfortable passenger trains, as soon as the line will be ready.  

The extension of the Centro-Occidental route from Barquisimeto to Acarigua, in the state of Portuguesa via Yaritagua is finished, and the trial runs have been successful. Now everybody is eagerly waiting for the official opening of the line, which is altogether 101 kilometers long: 34 kilometers from Barquisimeto to Yaratigua, then another 67 kilometers onwards to Acarigua. 

Acarigua is a major commercial center for the northern Llanos. In unison with Araure, it represents the largest urban center in the grasslands of Venezuela, with well over one million inhabitants. The combined cities of Acaragua-Araure share a large agroindustrial zone with silos and factories for corn, rice and milk products. Together, both cities can boast of 12 universities. Llanos traditions and festivals are the hallmark of Acarigua-Araure. The Carnavales and Navidades (Carnavals and Christmas) are worthwhile visiting.

The Northern Llanos railway system leads through Llanos states as well, beginning in the eastern Llanos town of Anaco, state of Anzoátegui, ending in Tinaco, located in the western Llanos state of Cojedes. This line was begun in 2009 with the help of China, through the Venezuela-China Strategic Development Fund, created in May 2008 to increase economic cooperation between the two nations.

The beginning of the construction was officially inaugurated in March 2009 by President Hugo Chávez and Bai Zhongren, Vice-President of the China Railway Group Ltd. in Venezuela.   He informed that the Anaco-Tinaco rail line will transport around six million passengers per year. His company is one of the 500 biggest companies worldwide, having built almost 45.000 miles of railway in China. The ceremony was also attended by the Chinese ambassador to Venezuela, Zhang Tuo. He affirmed that with Chinese support the Venezuelan rail system will be among "the most modern in the world." 

The totality of costs for the Anaco-Tinaco railroad is 800 million USD. It is expected to start operating in 2016, at a maximum speed of 137 mph. The distance covered is 471 kilometers, with one tunnel and 25 bridges. The stations served are northern Llanos towns, from east to west: Anaco and Aragua de Barcelona in the state of Anzoátegui; Zaraza, Tucupido, Valle de la Pascua, Chaguaramas, El Sombrero and Dos Caminos in the state of Guárico; El Pao and Tinaco in the state of Cojedes.      

The first station, Anaco, with about 110.000 inhabitants, is an industrial city, connected to the Venezuelan natural gas and oil industries. The last station, Tinaco, is a small town with a population of 25.000. The main economic activity is agriculture, especially cattle-raising.

In the state of Guárico, the railroad is a major source of jobs, very much in demand. In February 2010, the Governor of Guárico, William Lara, accompanied by the President of IFE, Franklin Pérez Colina, and the Vice-President of the Chinese firm Crec, Liu Sangiang, officially activated the workers' camps near the towns of Chaguaramas and Zaraza. They also inspected the halls, where the heavy machinery is kept for excavation of terrain and other ground operations.

In Dos Caminos, state of Guárico, students of railroad engineering received two days of instruction, with lectures and workshops at the installations of the Northern Llanos railway camp. They were taught in the areas of industrial security, labor health, construction, maintenance and other technical aspects.

The professor for maintenance, Yanet Laya, informed that the state of Guárico held a great percentage of Venezuela's railroad kilometers, therefore it was the ideal place for instruction. Bianca Romero, who teaches railway security, added,  "These classes shall capacitate our future engineers who will work in the railroad sector, a great project for giving agroindustrial impulses to the social development of our country."  

In Anaco, state of Cojedes, the final station of this line, work is expected eagerly. In June of this year, Francisco Solórzano, the Mayor of Anaco, announced that the last part of the railroad was to be iniated in 2013, with 1.600 contracts for qualified personnel in his town, 400 direct and 1.200 indirect jobs. "Our community will be the beneficiary," the Mayor said, "because we will receive some extra taxes from this employment."

The workers' camps have already been set up by Crec, the China Railway Engineering Corporation.  The storage facilities for goods and the loading dock will be built on 444 hectares of terrain in the industrial zone of Anaco. The little Llanos town will profit greatly from this scheme, because Anaco will be a knot in the overall network of rail lines, with the most important trains passing through. Anaco will also receive the largest loading dock oft he country.

Thus, everybody involved has his own reasons to be happy about the great Railroad Development Plan 2006-2030 of the Bolivarian Government. Other big cities in the West, such as Maracaibo or San Cristóbal, and down South, for example Ciudad Guayana and Puerto Ordaz, will have to wait longer. They will be served last, but "all is well that ends well," as William Shakespeare knew.

In 1827, El Libertador, Simón Bolívar, already pointed out the necessity of building a network of rail transport in Venezuela, when he was speaking to a convocation of railroad experts in Caracas. About 200 years later, his idea will finally become reality, thanks to the willpower and stamina of President Hugo Chávez and his administration.    


Prepared for publication by:

Lisa Karpova


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey